Board Certified Specialists

Lawyers can earn Board Certification in a number of specialty areas of practice. Board Certified Specialists have demonstrated the highest levels of knowledge, experience, and excellence in a particular field of practice.

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North Carolina Board of Legal Specialization

North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization


In 1985, the North Carolina State Bar created the Board of Legal Specialization. Beginning in 1987, the board started designating certain attorneys as "board certified" or "legal certified specialist" in various practice areas. 

Board certification remains an effective way to help the public find a qualified attorney because the certification validates a claim by an attorney of specialization in a particular area of the law.

Approximately 2.2% of registered attorneys in North Carolina are certified specialists in their field. The 2018 Annual Report indicated that North Carolina has more than 1,254 Board Certified Specialists in a community of approximately 28,302 active North Carolina attorneys.


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 Contact Information

North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization
208 Fayetteville Street
P.O. Box 25908
Raleigh, NC 27611-5908
Phone: (919) 828-4620

Rules to Advertise as a Board Certified Specialist in North Carolina

Pursuant to the North Carolina State Bar Rules, Ch. 1, Subch. D, Rule .1718(7), any lawyer certified as a specialist under this plan is entitled to advertise that he or she is a “Board Certified Specialist” in his or her specialty to the extent permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Pursuant to Rule 7.4 of the Revised Rules of Professional Conduct of the North Carolina State Bar, an attorney in North Carolina s not permitted to state or imply that the lawyer is certified as a specialist in a field of practice unless:

  1. the certification was granted by the North Carolina State Bar;
  2. the certification was granted by an organization that is accredited by the North Carolina State Bar; or
  3. the certification was granted by an organization that is accredited by the American Bar Association under procedures and criteria endorsed by the North Carolina State Bar; and
  4. the name of the certifying organization is clearly identified in the communication.

To avoid misrepresentation and deception, the comment to Rule 7.4 provides that a "lawyer may not communicate that the lawyer has been recognized or certified as a specialist in a particular field of law, except as provided by this rule."

Attorneys that are not certified specialist, can still describe their practice without using the term "specialize" or "specialist" in any manner which is truthful and not misleading.

For example, if the attorney practices only in certain fields, or will not accept matters except in a specified field or fields, the lawyer is permitted to so indicate by using words such as "concentration" or an "interest" or a "limitation."

The bar rules in North Carolina recognize that "expertise" in patent matters is a matter of long-established policy of the Patent and Trademark Office. For this reason, a lawyer admitted to engage in a patent practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office in North Carolina may use the designation "Patent Attorney" or any substantially similar designation.

Furthermore, as explained in RPC 43, an attorney who has been certified as a specialist by the Board of Legal Specialization may indicate this designation in an advertisement that is not false, deceptive or misleading.


Different Areas of Specialization in NC

Currently, North Carolina recognizes thirteen (13) main areas of specialization including:

The Board of Legal Specialization recently announced the new board-certified specialists for 2015 which brings the total number to more than 1,000.


Service Awards for Board-Certified Specialist

Each year, North Carolina's specialty certification program presents the specialization awards based on nominations that it receives from board-certified specialists. The awards are presented during an annual luncheon each spring.

The Sara H. Davis Excellence Award

The award is presented to a certified specialist who exemplifies excellence in his/her daily work as an attorney and serves as a model for other lawyers. Special consideration is given for a long and consistent record of handling challenging matters successfully, for sharing knowledge and experience with other lawyers, for earning the respect and admiration of all others with whom the lawyer comes into contact in his/her daily work, and for high ethical standards.

2018 Winner: Rose Stout, Raleigh, Family Law

The James E. Cross Jr. Leadership Award

Nominations for this award are accepted from members of the North Carolina State Bar who have worked closely with the nominee. The award is presented to a certified specialist who has taken an active leadership role in his/her practice area through presentations at CLE seminars, scholarly writings, participation in groundbreaking cases, or service to an established professional organization.

2018 Winner: Leonard “Lennie” Jernigan, Raleigh, Workers’ Compensation

The Howard L. Gum Service Award

This award is given to a specialty committee member who consistently excels in completing committee tasks. The recipient is highly dedicated to legal specialization, donates his/her time to committee responsibilities, and responds to the needs of the staff and the board, in exemplary fashion. Nominations can only be accepted from committee members.

2018 Winner: Robert “Bert” Kemp, Greenville, Criminal Law


Minimum Requirements for Specialty Certification in NC

The requirements for certification in each particular practice area is set out in 27 NCAC 1D, Sections .2100 through .3100. The minimum requirements for certification as a legal specialist in North Carolina generally include:

  • being in good standing to practice law in the State of North Carolina;
  • showing "substantial involvement" in the practice area for at least five years prior to making the application;
  • completing certain continuing legal education (CLE) classes in the specialty practice area during a three-year cycle prior to making application;
  • submitting to peer review by another attorney and judges familiar with the attorney's practice; and
  • passing a written examination.

Leadership for North Carolina's Legal Specialization Program

Brian Oten serves as the Executive Director. Denise Mullen serves as the Assistant Director. Lanice Heidbrink provides Administrative Support to the Specialization Program. Board members include:
  • Robert (Bob) Mason, Chair, Asheboro
  • Larry H. Rocamora, Vice Chair, Durham
  • Kimberly R. Coward, Cashiers
  • Patricia Head, Raleigh
  • Laura V. Hudson, Raleigh
  • Everett (Vic) Knight, Raleigh
  • Robert A. Ponton, Raleigh
  • Jan E. Pritchett, Greensboro
  • Nancy S. Ray, Greenville

The leaders on the Specialty Committees include:

  • Appellate Practice - John J. Korzen, Chair - Kernersville
  • Bankruptcy Law- A. Cotten Wright, Chair - Charlotte
  • Criminal Law - Robert C. Kemp, Chair - Greenville
  • Elder Law - Letha S. McDowell, Chair - Kitty Hawk
  • Estate Planning and Probate Law - Jennifer L. J. Koenig, Chair - Greensboro
  • Family Law - Eugene M. Carr, III, Co-Chair - Hendersonville
    • G. Elizabeth Hodges, Co-Chair - Charlotte
  • Immigration Law - Thomas E. Fulghum, Chair - Durham
  • Juvenile Delinquency - Mary D. Stansell, Chair - Raleigh
  • Privacy & Information Security Law - Matthew A. Cordell, Chair - Greensboro
  • Real Property Law Specialty Committee- Frank W. Erwin, Chair - Jacksonville
  • Social Security Disability Law - Andrea G. Farmer, Chair - Rutherfordton
  • Trademark Law - David W. Sar, Chair - Greensboro
  • Utilities Law - Henry C. Campen Jr., Chair - Raleigh
  • Workers’ Compensation - Michael W. Bertics, Chair - Raleigh

Publications by the North Carolina Board of Legal Specialization

The North Carolina Board of Legal Specialization also publishes a newsletter called "The Specialist" that profiles attorneys who have earned the designation of "board certified specialist."

The newsletter helps other attorneys understand the benefits of seeking board certification.

In the articles, the attorneys answer questions such as:

  • Why did you pursue certification?
  • Has certification been helpful to your practice?
  • Who are your best referral sources?
  • How does your certification benefit your clients?
  • Is certification important in your practice area?
  • How does specialization benefit the public or the profession?
  • How has your certification been a part of shaping your legal career?
  • What would you say to encourage other lawyers to pursue certification?

ABA-Accredited Certification Programs

Pursuant to North Carolina Rule 7.4, North Carolina lawyers may advertise their certification in the same way as lawyers who are certified by the North Carolina State Bar if the certification was granted by an organization that is accredited by the American Bar Association under procedures and criteria endorsed by the North Carolina State Bar. Those organizations include:

  • National College for DUI Defense, Inc.;
  • National Board of Trial Advocacy (formerly the "National Board of Legal Specialty Certification");
  • American Board of Certification;
  • National Elder Law Foundation;
  • American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys;
  • National Association of Counsel for Children; and
  • National Association of Estate Planners & Councils.

Disclaimer: At Lawyer Legion, we recognize the importance of specialty certification programs. Lawyer Legion is not endorsed or approved by any state or national board certification program or by any bar association including the State Bar of North Carolina. The Lawyer Legion directory provides a good way to find a board-certified attorney in North Carolina for a specialty practice area of the law.


This article was last updated on Friday, November 22, 2019.